The most obvious obstacle to impeaching President Donald Trump is that even if he is impeached, 20 Republicans would have to vote to convict him in the Senate trial. Even Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — who were facing a party that held the Senate majority — were able to muster enough votes for acquittal. So removing Trump after impeachment looks near impossible.
“Impeachment was meant to be a political remedy for political offenses,” wrote Ezra Klein for Vox. “But over time, it has mutated into something quite different: a partisan remedy for political offenses. And partisan remedies are subject to partisan considerations. If Trump falls before an impeachment trial, the Republican Party will be left in wreckage. The GOP’s leaders can’t permit the destruction of their own party. They will protect Trump at all costs.”
But, Klein argued, Trump doesn’t even have to be removed for impeachment to injure his presidency — and strengthen the rule of law. There are, he argued, three tangible things even a failed impeachment would accomplish.
The first thing impeachment would do, Klein argued, is serve as a mark of shame on the Trump presidency.
“Impeachment acts as a form of public disgrace,” wrote Klein. “To be one of only four impeached presidents in American history, even if you are not convicted by the Senate, is to know an asterisk will be forever attached to your presidency, your offenses prominently recorded. It’s a humiliation for you and a warning to your successors. That’s one way in which impeachment acts as a deterrent. It’s a statement that a particular action falls outside the boundaries of normal American politics, that the behavior violated the public trust in a historic fashion.”
The second thing impeachment would do, wrote Klein, is wound the president’s re-election prospects.
“The Senate isn’t the only possible judge of an impeachment case,” said Klein. “In 2020, Americans will go to the polls to vote for the next president. If the House conducts a serious, thorough impeachment investigation, the revelations of that inquiry will inform their choice. Indeed, if Senate Republicans are stonewalling accountability for a clearly corrupt president, it may affect Americans’ choices in Senate elections, too. Moreover, Trump’s offense is directly relevant to the 2020 election. In trying the case before the ‘judge’ of the 2020 electorate, House Democrats will be elevating Trump’s offense to the proper jury.”
Finally, Klein suggested, impeachment would be a direct message to foreign governments that the United States does not tolerate attacks on its election system.
“The question for any foreign country facing an opportunity or request to intervene in America’s election is what they may gain and what they may lose,” said Klein. “For Ukraine, the potential gains were clear: military aid and anything else that might flow from nurturing Trump’s goodwill. The spotlight of impeachment makes the costs clearer, too. A foreign country that is asked to intervene in an American election may see its activities exposed, much to the fury of the other political party and the public. Ukraine may want Trump’s goodwill, but it doesn’t want the Democrats’ ill will or the distraction and infamy of this investigation.”
Just because impeachment has become a more partisan and toothless procedure than the founders intended, Klein concluded, doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time.
“Even a broken impeachment process has its uses,” wrote Klein. “The Senate may refuse its role, but through a properly designed impeachment process, the House can focus the public’s attention, send a message to the world, and create a record for the future.”